Civil Rights Groups on Voting Equipment FlexibilitySeveral civil rights groups have signed a letter prepared by The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and FairVote-The Center for Voting and Democracy. The letter discusses the importance of flexibility in voting equipment. Following the letter is a more detailed description of voting equipment flexibility. This statement was initially released in June of 2001.
To whom it may concern:
The controversial presidential elections in Florida in 2000 demonstrated that many American counties use antiquated voting equipment. There is a consensus among election administrators, elected officials, civic leaders and the public at-large that many jurisdictions should modernize their equipment to ensure that voter intentions are accurately recorded and counted.
As a whole, we believe that much more needs to be done to improve our electoral process than purchasing new voting equipment and software. At the same time, we believe that such new equipment, when made equally available in all precincts, is an essential building block to a fair and just representative democracy. But it is critically important new voting mechanics expand democracy rather than put any unnecessary limitations upon it. For that reason, we support federal and state requirements that all new voting equipment and software have the following features:
- Have a precinct-based, error-correcting capacity to ensure that voters have the opportunity to correct or avoid any errors, such as over-votes and under-votes
- Be flexible enough to handle ballot types necessary for all election systems currently used in the United States, including cumulative voting and ranked choice ballots
- Provide full accessibility to people with disabilities
- Ensure ballots can be read and understood with minimal assistance by people whose level of literacy is low and by people whose primary language is other than English.
Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund
Brennan Center for Justice
Center for Voting and Democracy
Committee for the Study of the American Electorate
Demos: A Network for Ideas & Action
Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium
Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund
U.S. Public Interest Research Group
Voting Equipment and the Benefits of Flexibility
The Center for Voting and Democracy
There are several important criteria that counties and states should satisfy in purchasing new equipment and software. One particularly important criterion is flexibility. The principle of flexibility in voting equipment includes several components:
A. Precinct-Based, Error-Correcting Capacity: Research in the wake of the 2000 elections demonstrates that perhaps the most straightforward way to reduce invalid votes is to ensure that voters have the opportunity to correct any over-votes and under-votes or avoid them altogether. The capacity for precinct-based error correction can be built into all current voting technologies.
B. Capacity to Handle All Ballot Types: There are currently four ballot types used individually and in combination in public elections in the U.S. They are:
1. Voters vote for one candidate only in a given level of election
2. Voters vote for more than one candidate in a given election
3. Voters can allocate more than one vote to a single candidate (cumulative voting)
4. Voters can rank candidates in order of choice (choice voting and instant runoff voting)
Jurisdictions acquiring new voting equipment can generally ensure compatibility with all ballots types at no additional cost. Voting technologies include: 1) electronic Direct Recording Equipment (DRE), often referred to as ATM- or touch-screen style equipment, 2) optical scanning equipment; and 3) modern punch card equipment. Some equipment provides ballot type flexibility more easily than others, with DRE's likely have the potential for the easiest designs. Most equipment and technologies, such as lever and push-button machines, are generally incompatible with all ballot types. Some relatively modern equipment is incompatible without software adjustments. The counties of Santa Clara (CA), Alameda (CA) and Travis (TX) are among those that have included in their request for proposals requirements that their new DRE's be able to handle ranked-ballots, and all major DRE vendors now have ranked ballots as a standard available feature. Three major companies which produce optical scan equipment, ES&S, Global and Sequoia, can handle ranked-choice ballots with their latest precinct scanners.
C. Accessibility for People with Disabilities: The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA or "Motor Voter") guarantee access to polling sites and voting equipment for people with disabilities of sight and mobility. However, interpretation of this law has not satisfied advocates of people with disabilities, as it has allowed jurisdictions to purchase new equipment that does not provide the levels of accessibility these advocates seek. There is a developing consensus among election administration reformers that greater accessibility is of fundamental concern, which raises particular questions about voting equipment -- like optical scan technology -- that makes it impossible or difficult for those who are visually impaired to cast a secret ballot.
D. Recognition of Differences in Language and Literacy Level: The federal Voting Rights Act requires that under certain conditions election materials must be provided in languages other than English. Voting equipment and materials also should be useable by voters who have low levels of literacy. All modern voting equipment can be designed for multiple languages, although some can do so with less strain on election administrators than others. For example, electronic DRE's can allow voters to indicate their language of choice without requiring election administrators to print and distribute ballots in those languages. Particular voting equipment and ballot designs vary greatly in terms of their ease of use by people with low levels of literacy. Although machines currently used in many places are not accessible to people who do not read English, experience from around the world shows that it is possible to design fully accessible materials for any voting equipment or technology. The key is to use simple, clear language along with pictures, symbols and/or numbers.